When we think about the New Orleans Saints’s key to their offense, the obvious choice is their passing attack. With Sean Payton’s wide variety of uniquely unstoppable plays, their vast array of offensive weapons, and Drew Brees at the helm, it’s hard not to go with their passing attack.
But the reality of it all is that if New Orleans can’t get their rushing attack going this season, their record will surely falter. Last season, it was obvious that Payton’s absence, due to his suspension, made a monster impact on the whole team, but especially the offense.
Bress saw the worst of it, throwing five more interceptions in 2012 than in 2011 and saw his completion percentage plummet from 71.2 percent to 63 percent.
But what is not being talked about is that the lack of a rushing attack also had a huge impact on Brees and the offense’s decline.
In 2012, New Orleans rushed the ball 370 times for a decent 4.3 yards per carry. But in 2011, when they finished 13-3 and Brees won Offensive Player of the Year, the Saints ran the ball 431 times for 4.9 yards per carry.
That is 61 more carries! There is an obvious correlation with a strong running attack and an improved overall offense and quarterback play. When the running game gets going, that leaves the quarterback with the upper hand over the defense to fool them with what type of plays will be called. And with Payton and Brees running the show, that is extremely important.
Don’t believe me that running the ball means success for New Orleans? Check out the numbers from 2009 when the Saints won the Super Bowl. They ran the ball 468 times for an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Those numbers are eerily similar to 2011’s stats, and what do you know, New Orleans won the big one.
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Now working backwards, looking at the 2010 season, the Saints only ran the ball 380 times. They finished with a solid record of 11-5, but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the underdog Seattle Seahawks.
Although that is a good year by traditional standards, they finished 13-3 and went much further in the playoffs the year before and the year after. There has to be a major reason for that.
Now, I’m not saying that the New Orleans running game is the answer to all of their problems or successes over the past few seasons because we all know in football, it just does not work like that. But I am saying that it plays a major factor in their season’s outcome.
Throughout the past four seasons there is an obvious connection with running the ball and a high-powered offense in New Orleans, so now we know what they need to do.
They have a solid three-headed monster of Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and Pierre Thomas in the backfield, and the more they feed the monster, the better.
Sproles will be a solid contributor in the passing game like he always is, but he does not make much of an impact on the rushing game. The two major influences on the run game are Ingram and Thomas.
This could be the season that Ingram finally puts it all together. In his second season last year, he received more carries, but had pretty similar numbers. If he can find the explosiveness that got him drafted in the first round, this team could have another one of those offensive explosion seasons.
Thomas, on the other hand, is the do-everything back for this team. He can make an impact on both the running and passing attacks, but he does not have much upside. We know what we will get from him: a solid complementary back who will certainly get the job done when his number is called.
If Ingram and Thomas can combine for at least 450 attempts, then expect this team to be as good as we remember before the bounty gate mess.
In Week 1, New Orleans ran the ball 26 times between Sproles, Ingram, and Thomas and they ended up beating the Atlanta Falcons. By last season’s standards, that would rank them 18th in the league and three more attempts per game more than their average last year. It was a very balanced attack, but I would like to see them run the ball even a few more times a game.
New Orleans should be ecstatic to have Payton back as Head Coach, but unless he feeds his three-headed monster the necessary amount, there will not be much to cheer about for Saints fans.
By: Matt Levine